Chickpea Salad with Lemon and Arugula

Arugula and chickpea salad

In December we had an epic frost that killed all the summer plants in the garden: tomatoes, peppers, beans, and squash all wilted and died on the same night.  Now the beds are brown and barren, and there’s nothing much I can do until a new round of seeds can sprout.  Until then, I rely on a small patch of arugula for last-minute salad fixings.  The arugula is sharp and peppery, having been planted too many months ago.  I finally found the perfect salad for it, an addictive blend of garlic and lemon flavors, so here is a recipe to enjoy in the middle of winter.  It is a salad that depends upon only peppery greens and a lemon for freshness, both of which are plentiful in California this time of year.  Better yet, mix it up with different greens (lots of finely chopped parsley is fantastic) or another type of bean that will hold its shape.  Feta is a fine addition.

Chickpea Salad with Lemon and Arugula
(serves 2)
1-2 cups cooked chickpeas
1 tablespoon butter
1-3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2-3 cups arugula, washed and cut into salad-appropriate pieces
The juice of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon ground sumac (a tart spice)
Salt and pepper to taste
An extra drizzle of olive oil if desired
Optional: feta cheese

1.  Cook the chickpeas in butter in a frying pan or cast iron skillet until the skins are golden brown in places.  Add the garlic to the pan and cook with the chickpeas until done.  Pour the chickpeas and garlic into a salad bowl, sprinkle with salt and pepper, stir, and set aside.

2.  Prepare the rest of the ingredients while the chickpeas cool and then put them in the bowl with the chickpeas and garlic.  Taste for salt (use less if including feta cheese since it’s so salty) and lemon juice.  If you don’t have sumac, just omit it, or add more lemon juice.  Eat the salad as soon as you’ve added the lemon juice so the greens don’t have time to wilt.

The Second Garden Produce and a Salad

Ack.  I turned an old bookshelf into a bunny frame (it keeps out the rabbits, as we don’t seem to have a problem with the cold here in sunny CA) and one of the four things I planted is doing well, along with one thing I didn’t plant: arugula.  The bok chard sort of exploded in my absence, and while I may have pulled out at least ten plants, the bunny frame is still crowded.  I’m still not sure how the arugula is part of this, except Karina planted a couple arugula plants there that promptly died from neglect months before the bunny frame business.  Who knew arugula was the cockroach of the garden world?  No, seriously.  Because I haven’t seen a single plant go to seed and yet I can’t for the life of me imagine how the arugula is just popping up everywhere!  Perhaps this would be less troublesome if I were more of an arugula fan.  Peter detests bitter greens, so it’s just me against an entire vegetable drawer of peppery, rebellious salad stuff.  Let’s just say that the salad I made for dinner had nothing to do with it; perhaps if the arugula hadn’t overtaken all my rouge d’hiver lettuce this would be a different story.

On the up-side, of the dozen flower seeds I planted in the spring, three flower plants have survived: one lonely red zinnia, one red nasturtium, and one whitish-yellow nasturtium, both with speckled leaves.  I’d never celebrated the determination of a single plant so much (that zinnia is just so darn cute), especially since the flowers didn’t get a cherished place in the bunny frame.

The salad was quite delicious, despite its lack of arugula.  It had cucumber, tomato, chives, crumbled queso fresco (like a soft version of feta), and of course nasturtiums.  If you’ve never eaten nasturtiums before, give it a try.  The petals are kind of tasteless, but pretty, and the central part of the flower packs a peppery punch.  I’ve been on a leafless salad binge lately.  Fresh corn is my favorite leafless salad base, but that means it’s always the first to go, and at some point in the week I have to get creative and try something else.  The next salad will definitely have arugula, but what to do after that?  Karina suggested arugula on pizza, which I know is very good with cheese and prosciutto at Olio Pizzeria.  Any other suggestions?

Green Bean-Tomato-Avocado Potato Salad

We are at the perfect stage of summer, although if you’d asked me about that a week ago I would have laughed.  Santa Barbara has a bad habit of getting gloomy for pretty much the whole month of June.  Just when I’m ready to have summer vacation, or at least pretend that I am about to have summer vacation, the sun gets hidden by a dense, wet, gray, and altogether miserable curtain of clouds that just dares me to enjoy living next to a beach.  But a couple days ago it ended, and I haven’t seen a cloud since.  The sky is bright blue every day, and somehow I’m left hoping we might have the occasional cloud straggler if only to provide a brief moment of shade, because now it’s just too hot.  Perhaps this is just proof that people are incapable of being happy for more than one day at a time, but I dare you not to be happy when you have the chance to go to the farmer’s market two days in a row.  The perfect stage of summer is that place where I can buy fresh tomatoes that actually taste good, but before I get tired of zucchini.  And we are there!  One of my favorite ways to celebrate this brief period is to make a rather alternative potato salad that was first, and best, made by my friend Karina.  Since I don’t have a recipe from her, I sort of make the dressing up every time, but the four divine vegetables stay the same.  I recommend you do the same, and try everything from a traditional mayonnaise dressing to a simple vinaigrette.

Green Bean-Tomato-Avocado Potato Salad
4-5 medium potatoes, cut in 1-inch cubes
1 small basket cherry-sized tomatoes, halved
1-2 large handfuls fresh and tender green  beens, halved with ends trimmed
1 ripe avocado, cut into slivers or cubes
Salad dressing
Steam or boil potato cubes until tender, but not so long that they won’t hold there shape when mixed in the salad.  Mix cooked potato cubes in the salad dressing in a heat-proof bowl while still warm.  Steam green beans just until the edge of soft and then add them to the potatoes.  Taste for salt and pepper.  Mix in the halved cherry tomatoes and top with slices of avocado.  Be careful not to cut up the avocado before you’re ready to serve the salad or else it will turn a nasty brown color.

A Salad Dressing for Potato Salad
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 heaping tablespoon sour cream
Salt and pepper
Mix the olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper in a bowl.  When the potatoes are cooked, add them to the bowl and toss until coated.  Add the sour cream and toss again.  Taste for salt and pepper.

Tomato Salad with Orange & Mint Meatball Pasta

I was not a fan of touching raw meat before I lived with Peter.  Raw meat was so scary that I cooked almost exclusively vegetarian meals, but as you might be thinking, meat is Peter’s fourth favorite thing, and while he ate mostly vegetarian while living with JI, he didn’t relish surviving graduate school without the occasional roast, steak, or burger.  I started out slow: already prepared chicken breasts.  Then there was the epic first WHOLE roasted chicken.  And for some reason I agreed to try making a pot roast sometime after that.  Let’s just say things have gotten so out of control that I finally made my first ground meat dish tonight: meatballs with orange and mint.  And this involved squeezing and mixing the raw meat with my bare fingers… uck.  I must admit, however, that the finished product was well-worth any trauma the ground beef may have caused.

Pasta with Orange & Mint Meatballs — From In Late Winter We Ate Pears
(serves 2 with many meatballs left over)

Orange and Mint Meatballs:
1 pound ground beef
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup orange zest
2 eggs
2 tablespoons minced parsley
1/8-1/4 cup minced fresh mint
Salt and pepper
Juice of 1-2 oranges
Olive oil for cooking meatballs
Mix beef, bread crumbs, orange zest, eggs, parsley, mint, salt, and pepper in a bowl until well-combined.  This is best done with bare hands so that you can tell when everything is mixed uniformly into the ground beef.  Shape the meatball mixture into small meatballs (the diameter of a dime or quarter, but I found it hard to shape them as small as a dime) and put them on a plate in preparation for cooking.  Brown the meatballs on both sides in a lightly oiled skillet; they should be cooked through at this point.  Transfer the meatballs to a stainless steel or glass pot with as little of their oil as possible and cook them with the orange juice just to produce a nice glaze.  Once the orange juice has thickened and been almost completely reduced, transfer the meatballs to a plate to drain or just cool.  Wipe out the skillet and pot before cooking the next batch.

Pasta:
2 portions spaghetti (one portion is a bundle about the thickness of a nickel)
Salt
Parmesan cheese
Minced parsley and orange slices for garnish
Cook pasta in heavily salted water until cooked al dente.  Mix pasta with the meatballs and Parmesan cheese.  Add a drizzle of olive oil if the pasta seems too dry.  Garnish plates of pasta with parsley and orange slices.

Tomato Salad with Spring Hill Goat White Cheddar Cheese
(serves half a person, so double or triple accordingly)
1 heirloom tomato (or any delicious tomato)
Slices of Spring Hill Goat White Cheddar Cheese or other very strong flavored cheese
Basil leaves
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Slice tomato in large slices.  Drizzle olive oil over tomato slices and then season tomato with salt and pepper.  Top with cheese and basil leaves.

The possibilities for tomato salads are endless.  They work with almost any kind of cheese, basil, vinegar, olive oil, onion, or avocado combination.  I only include a recipe for one version here to remind you that it exists, and also to encourage you to try the goat white cheddar.